Monday, July 31, 2006

Mixed Signals

We were standing at the airport awaiting the arrival of our bags when I nearly snapped. Not really -- I'm not sure I'm "snappable", but allow me the hyperbole anyway. For those non-Detroit people who read this, I need to explain Smith Terminal. The main terminal at Detroit is McNamara. It is new, modern, beautiful, very well designed, and about the nicest large airport anywhere (the nicest small one has to be in Fort Smith, Arkansas). The other terminal -- soon to be replaced -- is Smith Terminal. Think "Bosnia-Lite" with "eau de Kosovo" oozing up from the carpet competing with the aura of despair and meaninglessness coming from the baggage claim area and various TSA personnel.

A woman was beside me, turning around constantly and yelling at her kids. To be fair -- the kids needed yelling at. They were out of control and causing quite a scene. The woman would yell, threaten, plead and then start again, almost without taking a breath. Knowing that I might offend some, it must be said: this woman was demanding her children be disciplined when everything about her indicated she was not disciplined herself. Her clothes, hygiene, voice, language (and on and on) were all indicative of a person who had never made a hard choice, chosen a discipline and stuck to it, or lived a life of self control. The pile of duty free liquor boxes at her feet were just a plus, a metaphysical underlining of my initial take on the situation.

So... why didn't her kids listen? Because the signal was mixed. The kids were seeing one signal lived out in front of them and hearing another signal. That second signal had no chance of success for the kids had never seen an example of it lived out in front of them.

On the cruise ship some very young girls wore super tight T-shirts advertising their sexual availability with slogans or by their snugness. Others wore far too little cloth covering only the legal necessities as their "swim suit." We're talking 9-14 year olds, here. Moms and dads had to buy that clothing, had to pack it, and had to allow them to wear them in public. These would be the same moms and dads that sat in the restaurant and complained about how unruly and disrepectful their kids were. Hmmmmmm.....

Other parents embarassed themselves and their children by the heaping plates of food they hauled back to their table at every opportunity. When the chocolate buffet came out on Thursday it went from farce to tragedy. By that I mean that I used to think the most dangerous place on the planet was between a TV camera and Jesse Jackon or Harry Reid. Nope. The most dangerous place was between some of the parents and that chocolate. Walking through a little later you saw heaps of food left on plates, wasted, good only to be thrown away by the third world workers whose hearts had to ache with memories of poverty back home. Where were the parents? They were out by the pool yelling at their kids to behave. Their efforts failed. Wonder why?

Children have to SEE disciplined lives lived out in front of them. My kids helped us write the checks when we paid our bills. They saw how much we gave the church. I arranged my study time to take place while the kids were up so that they could see that daddy really did read and pray every day. I took them with me when we did good works, made visits, mowed the lawn of a neighbor who was in the hospital, etc. I need to stress this: this was not natural for me. It was hard to remember that my little ones needed to see Christianity lived out. I am as selfish and narrow minded as any of you... but I know that Jesus wants something better from me. He lived it out, too. There was no mixed signal from Jesus. He lived out the fruits of the Spirit every day, in good times and in bad, and stayed faithful to who He was even while on the cross; offering forgiveness, taking care of his mother, and talking to His Father.

The lady at the terminal doesn't have a pleasant life. In pursuit of her own joys, pleasures, and peace, she has ended up in a place that guarantees she won't get any of them. My heart breaks for her and for her children. She did me a favor, though. She reminded me how important it is that my life gives off the right signals. People notice. Twice on this cruise, couples came up to us and asked us about our faith. They had noticed something different. We are in contact with two of the couples and hope to help them find their way to Jesus. Kami and I don't always send the right signals, but we want to!

Lord, let our lives match what we say we believe.


At 7/31/2006 10:12:00 AM , Blogger Mike Jones said...

First of all thanks for responding to my email it was very encouraging and I appreciate your insights so much. This blog is also a great reminder of the example I am setting for my two year old daughter. It is so easy to forget sometimes that our actions do speak louder than our words. I pray that I will have the boldness to live out my faith and model it for my family and all that I come in contact with.

At 7/31/2006 12:12:00 PM , Blogger Kevin J. Bowman said...

I have said it so many times before, but your blog is a blessing to me. Thank you!

At 7/31/2006 07:54:00 PM , Blogger DJG said...

The last line should be the motto for all our lives...and our churches.

At 7/31/2006 09:38:00 PM , Anonymous TinaMarie said...

Thank you for the reminder that my life is an important vessel for God to use to reach those He loves. Those He wants to know him. It's a challenge but also a blessing. There is value in who I am and who I am becoming in Christ.

At 8/01/2006 10:11:00 AM , Blogger mike the eyeguy said...

Poignant. Piercing. Perfect.

I'm glad you both made it back and didn't "disappear" like so many these days.

At 8/01/2006 11:30:00 AM , Anonymous virusdoc said...

It's arrogant of you to assume you know so much about this mom, her values, and her life choices based solely on viewing her outer appearance and behavior for a few seconds. I realize you're using this anecdote as a rhetorical device (and it's a good one that makes a good point), but there is no way to accurately guage a person's character from such a short interaction. Ask yourself whether the character you are modeling with this post--that of someone who quickly condemns people he doesn't know based on outside appearances--is one you want your kids to adopt.

At 8/01/2006 12:35:00 PM , Blogger Dee O'Neil Andrews said...

While I see your latest commenter above sees you, it seems, in this post as a "character . . . quickly condemn[ing] people he doesn't know based on outside appearances" for what he describes as "a few seconds," I didn't read your post that way at all, myself.

For one thing, based on my long wait for baggage a week and a half ago in an airport in Texas (it lasted nearly 30 minutes and that was with only one plane on the ground at the terminal!), I would venture you spent a much longer period of time waiting for your luggage than just a few seconds. Even at best, waiting for luggage in airports is a time consuming process.

Be that as it may, I think a whole lot CAN be learned about people in a short period of time and first impressions lasting for even 15 or 30 minutes, and especially under very stressful conditions, can be most illuminating.

I didn't think you were being overly critical or judgmental or condemning in making any of your points in the post. I would probably have drawn similar conclusions, myself. To be fair and not condemning of YOU and what you wrote in this post, I would say you were merely trying to accurately convey your observations based on your close proximity to the people you described over some period of time long enough to make some valid judgments about them.

We are told over and over again throughout the Bible, Old and New Testaments, to live so that others seeing us and observing us will see God in us by the ways we act and dress and conduct ourselves.

We are to be known for revealing the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives in our love, kindness, compassion, joy, etc, being slow to anger and setting aside worldly passions and ways.

It behooves (isn't "behooves" a terrific word?!) us all to emulate Christ so that everyone around us will be left with good impressions of us in and throughout whatever circumstances they may encounter us. We should all try to ever be aware and cognizant of how we come across to others, beginning at home with our spouses and kids, and to try to avoid sending mixed signals.

It's not something I can easily do and I'm constantly having to think about it and work on it. It's hard for me many times when I'm tired and things aren't going well and everyone's tempers are on edge and circumstances are difficult. But that is when I try the hardest to think about what Jesus would do and have me do and how He would have me be.

I heard just this morning on the local (New Orleans) news that a woman had just shot and killed her husband in their FEMA trailer and then called the police to tell them. They described the shooting as being directly due to post-Katrina stresses and Tom and I have been seeing a lot of them still and continuing among people all around us in every aspect of our lives here.

It's been tough. Extraordinarily tough for hundreds of thousands of people and a lot of them have not conducted themselves very admirably or even civilly. But many more have and it shows when you are around them for even a few minutes. You can tell who's coping well and who isn't and can usually discern pretty quickly what kind of person they are deep down inside.

But it takes a lot of work and lots of prayer and guidance from God to achieve. Life isn't easy. It really isn't. But with God's help we can overcome our own natures and be conformed and transformed by Him (thinking Romans 12 here and its admonitions).

Those are my thoughts this afternoon here in Katrina Zone.

At 8/03/2006 03:21:00 PM , Blogger Cheetah, the cheetah said...

Still not the cat...

Your post gave me two very vivid memories of my Dad. It was..common.. to get up early in the morning and see him sitting with his Bible on the coffee table reading and studying.

He frequently took me with him on his Bible studies. I slept through a lot of Jules Verne (lol!) but I was also awake too. I know when he'd stop the projecter. I remember what he'd say.

My father's passionate love for the lost lives in my heart because he modeled it to me and at 81, he still does!

And, by the way, I didn't find your observations offensive either. They were merely observations. :) Sue Yanaros

At 8/04/2006 11:22:00 AM , Anonymous Laymond said...

Brother what is the word I am looking for; when you pretend to be one way to impress others, when in your heart you are just the same as any others.
"I need to stress this: this was not natural for me. It was hard to remember that my little ones needed to see Christianity lived out. I am as selfish and narrow minded as any of you... but I know that Jesus wants something better from me. He lived it out, too."
To live like a Christian we have to be repentant, truly changed no pretense.

At 8/06/2006 09:22:00 PM , Blogger Serena said...

I didn't understand that Patrick was being something to impress people, but that he wanted to be a model to his children of what it is to walk in the Lord. I see his admitting to his own weaknesses as humility. In fact, that is one of the things I appreciate about this brother as much as you can pick something like that up from what a person writes (and I believe you can). Personally, I do not believe he is being "hypocritical" as that is the word you are hinting at.

Thanks for a good reminder, Patrick. We all need to be reminded that our children will live what we live, not what we say.

Love and shalom,


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